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NYSOFA expands animatronic pet and intergenerational games initiatives to combat loneliness and related health risks

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Wed, Jun 5th 2024 05:50 pm

Over 31,000 animatronic pets delivered to isolated older New Yorkers; data shows pets help reduce loneliness, isolation and pain

Submitted by the New York State Office for the Aging

The New York State Office for the Aging is launching phase 6 of its animatronic pet initiative and phase 2 of its intergenerational game project in partnership with Ageless Innovation, delivering 4,725 animatronic pets and games to older adults through New York state’s aging network. Since 2018, NYSOFA has distributed 31,500 animatronic pets to older adults who are socially isolated and lonely – a program that has since been replicated in over 30 states.

The lifelike animatronic pets are designed to make realistic sounds and motions, providing comfort and companionship to older adults. Data shows that the pets are making a positive impact. NYSOFA found that 75% of older adults receiving these pets reported a reduction/significant reduction in loneliness as well as a 75% decrease in pain.

The Joy for All games include Scrabble Bingo, Trivial Pursuit Generations, and Game of Life Generations. The games, which launched in 2023 in partnership with Hasbro, have been reimagined to be even more fun and better suit the needs of the older adult community. Features include larger fonts and intergenerational gameplay and storylines. In 2024, Ageless Innovation anticipates adding more game titles to its portfolio, expanding its licensed partnership with Hasbro to continue launching innovative, reimagined games for their audience. 

Director Greg Olsen said, “NYSOFA, in partnership with our aging services network, is proud to continue these initiatives that are helping thousands of New Yorkers across the state. We’ve initiated multiple innovative solutions, bolstered by technology, to connect people, provide companionship, and significantly reduce isolation and its consequences. Proudly, I can say data shows our efforts are working and exceeding expectations. We are proud of our six-year partnership with the team at Ageless Innovation and the Association on Aging in New York.”

NYSOFA works with area agencies on aging and community partners to identify individuals who are isolated and lonely and could benefit from receiving pets. The initiative has been supported in recent state budgets as part of a package of innovative programs through NYSOFA to address social isolation and provide support for caregivers. Individuals who are interested can contact their local office for the aging or can use New York’s discount code: NYS20.

Visit NYSOFA’s webpage on social isolation initiatives to learn more about the animatronic pet initiative and other related programs. Additionally, NYSOFA and Ageless Innovation are continuing to partner with local aging and health services organizations to host “Reach Out and Play” events. These intergenerational game events are part of a national initiative that is bringing together generations for game play. Learn more about upcoming “Reach Out and Play” events here.

AgingNY Executive Director Rebecca Preve said, “The Association on Aging applauds the combined efforts of technology and innovation to address social isolation and loneliness, and to increase multigenerational interactions. The continued partnership with Ageless Innovation and the New York State Office for the Aging has impacted thousands of older adults and their families. Together, innovative projects continue to provide interventions that impact the overall health and wellbeing of the older population and make New York state a leader in aging services.”

Ted Fischer, CEO and co-founder of Ageless Innovation, said, “Our work with The New York State Office for the Aging and the Association on Aging in New York has resulted in heartwarming feedback from family members and caregivers who have seen significant positive changes in their loved ones as the result of receiving a companion pet. This gratifying response, as well as the proven reduction in loneliness and pain that we’ve seen in older adults who have benefitted from this program, is what inspires us every day.”

Community Health Center of the North Country Program Director Susan Schrader said, “I have seen first-hand the power of these pets in the hands of lonely older adults. One individual immediately comes to mind: a 97-year-old woman with well-established dementia. While well cared for at home, she exhibited boredom and confusion, spending many hours in front of a TV that she couldn’t see because of her condition. She received an animatronic cat while on hospice care – and it was transformational. Protective and nurturing of her newfound companion, she petted it, tended to its paws, and talked to it every time it meowed. That is the power of pets.”

In May of 2023, the U.S. surgeon general declared loneliness and isolation a public health crisis. Social isolation – lack of meaningful contacts with others – costs the Medicare program $6.7 billion in additional spending every year. Isolation is also a clear risk factor for illness, depression, high blood pressure, and is a risk factor for dementia as well as death. Spending on the health consequences of social isolation is comparable to arthritis, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes – the public health equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes daily.

New York state has taken many steps to address isolation across state agencies, programs and services. To help promote these initiatives, including those provided by NYSOFA, Gov. Kathy Hochul in November 2023 appointed Dr. Ruth Westheimer as the state’s honorary ambassador to loneliness, a historic announcement highlighting the health and mental health risks associated with the epidemic of loneliness.

The New York State Office for the Aging continuously works to help the state’s 4.6 million older adults be as independent as possible for as long as possible through advocacy, development and delivery of person-centered, consumer-oriented and cost-effective policies, programs and services that support and empower older adults and their families, in partnership with the network of public and private organizations that serve them. Stay connected. Visit the NYSOFA Facebook page; follow @NYSAGING on X; or visit aging.ny.gov.

Ageless Innovation is a global company devoted to developing fun and engaging products for older adults. Beginning with the award-winning line of Joy for All Companion Pets, Ageless Innovation is focused on creating products that promote fun, joy and play while reducing the cost of care and creating meaningful connections for older adults, their families, and caregivers. For more information, visit www.joyforall.com.

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